January 15, 2013
"Downloadable music is just a fad and people will always want the atmosphere and experience of a music store rather than online shopping."

As HMV calls in the administrators, it’s worth taking a look back at Why Companies Fail—The Rise and Fall of HMV, published last August. In the piece, former HMV consultant Philip Beeching gives an inside scoop on working with the iconic music retailer. The quote above comes courtesy of then-managing director Steve Knott, commenting right after HMV went public in 2002.

Beeching describes his reaction to this response with a thoughtful reminder: “the dotcom bubble had just burst and many people were mistaking this stockmarket meltdown for an internet meltdown.” In other words, hindsight is always 20:20 and it’s easy to scoff at those who turn out to have got something wrong. Nonetheless, the inability to imagine a different way often proves to be catastrophic.

As such, this is a useful take on a sorry and sadly somewhat typical story. Just remember: any time anyone writes something off as a “fad,” hear the alarm bells ringing. It may indeed turn out to be a gimmick of the highest order, but it’s certainly worth taking the time to take another look.

[Story via Tom Weaver.]

June 30, 2011
The Deaths of Google Health and Google PowerMeter

As the Internets go bananas over the many introductions Google has announced this week, attention is diverted from the news that two of its much-ballyhooed announcements from recent years will be shuttered by the end of the year. In An Update on Google Health and Google PowerMeter, two leads from the projects explain the decisions. Here’s Aaron Brown, senior product manager of Google Health:

We wanted to translate our successful consumer-centered approach from other domains to healthcare and have a real impact on the day-to-day health experiences of millions of our users. Now, with a few years of experience, we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would.

And here’s Bill Weihl, Google’s Green Energy Czar, on PowerMeter:

Studies show that having simple access to such information helps consumers reduce their energy use by up to 15%; of course, even broader access to this information could help reduce energy use worldwide… We’re pleased that PowerMeter has helped demonstrate the importance of this access and created something of a model. However, our efforts have not scaled as quickly as we would like, so we are retiring the service.

There are many reasons for these failures, not least that the implementation of innovation is as enormously difficult as developing a smart strategy in the first place. In both of these instances, Google wasn’t able to scale its great ideas in a feasible, sustainable manner. It couldn’t build an audience for its offerings, and it clearly didn’t factor in the existing context of industries not inclined to embrace new ways of doing things. These challenges are something I’m thinking a lot about at the moment (I’m co-chairing a DMI-sponsored conference on the topic of Design at Scale that’ll be held in New York in October.) For now, it’s difficult not to assign a degree of hubris to Google’s good intentions, and wave goodbye to more unfulfilled potential.

May 15, 2011

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

I could listen to designer Milton Glaser speak all day. Even his most seemingly insignificant insights seems to end up resonating roundly, even years later. Here, he takes on the thorny topic of failure, filmed as part of a series by graduate students at Berghs School of Communication in Sweden. While it’s well worth watching the full video, Glaser’s advice on overcoming the “romantic idea” of the fear of failure boils down to one simple piece of advice. “There’s only one way out,” he says. “Embrace the failure.” (Video via Creative Review.)

May 12, 2011

British economist Tim Harford has a new book out: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. In this short, nicely designed promotional video, he talks about three things you need to know about learning from failure. Along with a look at Google (though honestly, all writers everywhere need to pinky swear they’ll stop talking about Google’s 20% time), he also analyzes the failure in the Iraq War and explains how Twyla Tharp was able to transform the potential disaster of the musical Movin’ Out into a Tony Award-winning success.

April 25, 2011
"It’s time to get lethally serious about failing bigger cheaper."

— The “fail fast” meme has been wildly misused and misunderstood. Failure isn’t something to be specifically aimed at, for heaven’s sakes. It’s just that if you aim high and happen to fail, you will almost certainly have learned something useful as you pick yourself back up and dust yourself off. That’s useful—and common practice among entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, this is a useful HBR post from Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab, who argues that *not* allowing large institutions (Detroit, banks) to fail actually represents “a titanic roadblock” obstructing our path towards a “more authentic, enduring prosperity.” As he concludes, “The future’s not predicted—it’s created. So create it. Fail bigger cheaper.”